Monthly Archives: January 2017

READING REFLECTION: Unplanned Organization by Margaret Wheatley

Articles like the one by Margaret Wheatley, which are written sans citation and stream-of-consciousness, have long-bothered me. She posits many theories, none of which she has any evidence or name to back up (except for her view that these should be obvious to the reader).

Where is the evidence that the stories she is weaving are even true? Or are they all just passed along by “meme-like group misremembrance”, as so often ill-advisedly occurs during many a teacher story. How much is she fitting the narrative to fit her own perspective of how things ought to be?

One such sentence stuck out at me. “Entomologists who study termites looked at these [termite towers] for years, and, recognizing a very complex structure, wondered, ‘Where’s the leader? Where’s the engineer? Where’s the brains behind this operation?’ The search for a leader was a long and futile quest. What is interesting is that the leaderless phenomenon wasn’t even pointed out until some women started critiquing the history of science, and came up with the stunning realization that there didn’t have to be a leader.”

This quote bothers me for three reasons.

1) it has no facts to back up its claims. Who are this group of women scientists?

2) Why is the punchline about “males overlooking the idea of collaborative self-organization” necessary? What does this accomplish other than needlessly mocking males?

3) Is any of her story at all true?

I decided to look up her claims. First of all, these towers have indeed been studied for years. Most of the studies I could find were by males, but in recent years a few female researchers have delved into the issue, particularly in the field of robotics (self-organizing robots).

However, all of this research, including a grad paper on the subject by a woman, was dated past 2007, when Wheatley’s article was written. ALL of the cited work I could find was by males.

This is just one of many examples of what I can only perceive as “storytelling” rather than “fact telling” in this article.




My great strength (as a person) is that, while not terribly good at anything in particular, I am pretty obsessive-compulsive and willing to dedicate obscene amounts of time to doing things exceptionally well when required. An odd example: While not particularly good-looking I was able throughout the course of my dating years to woo women through sheer effort & will-power (rather than, say, being particularly good at dating). I don’t mean this in a creepy way. I just honestly think that my niceness and enduring effort eventually won them over rather than being immediately smitten with me. This is true of my wife, even.

Additionally, despite being seen as “social” by many people, I also don’t have very much use for “socializing time” and have very few actual friends and don’t get involved in too many deep long conversations. I think sometimes maybe that I live in a world in my head. Right now, everyone is scattered across the classroom chatting and my first thought was to get to a computer and write write write.

In regards to teaching, I don’t see myself as an immediately gifted teacher. However, I am a nice guy who works hard at things, and in my first two years teaching I volunteered teaching the jazz ensemble at Burnaby Central, brought my students to perform at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, ran choirs of 100+ kids, and even ran lunch hour chess clubs etc. Besides this, I put on concerts and ran my own classroom.

I found great satisfaction in taking on waaaay too much work, and put in the hours required at home and at school to do all the work to a pretty good standard. Was my choir the BEST CHOIR EVER? No. But kids enjoyed themselves and a LOT of people were involved. Did kids in my chess club become amazing at chess? No. But everyone enjoyed themselves and a lot of people came.


The problem is: Now I have two kids and a wife at home on mat leave looking after them. I simply can’t stay at work until 6pm on a regular basis. I don’t have the energy to get the attention of 100+ kids in a choir rehearsal after not sleeping at night. Given that this ENERGY TO GET STUFF DONE has always been my strength, I am struggling to figure out how to feel like a competent teacher when I can’t even work much from home without making a baby cry at 10:00pm. I even get dressed in the dark these days in order to not wake sleeping people (which almost backfired on me the other day! I’m glad I’ve instituted the “look in the mirror before leaving the house” rule). A similar random thought: I’ve also taken to shaving daily just to make sure I don’t look ridiculous since I never have time to check my appearance out, thus ensuring I have at least a modicum of neatness about me.

Back to the topic at hand… I suppose if there are two types of people in the world (QUALITY vs. QUANTITY), I’ve always been a Quantity person. I can’t bake ONE AMAZING ECLAIR, so I will make you 200 pretty good chocolate chip cookies. I can’t tell ONE WELL TIMED AMAZING JOKES, so I will tell you 4,000 semi-decent ones and hope for one to hit you the right way. And, as a teacher, I’ve never felt like I would win any teaching awards by producing the next Mozart, so I’ve instead focused on creating 5,000 people who have a decently happy relationship with music. I’m not sure this is a healthy approach, but it’s what I’ve done.

Time management-wise, however, this approach is problematic — because most of my time must be now devoted to my new family responsibilities.


This brings me to the crux of my issue. I am trying to turn myself from a QUANTITY PERSON into a QUALITY PERSON. Less blurting, more thinking and speaking quality words. Less time wasted on overwhelming people with the amount of work I’ve put into something, more spending focused time to produce less (but have the less I produce be of higher value).

I’ve stopped trying to teach choirs of gigantic sizes because, quite frankly, I didn’t like it. I decided to instead focus on work I enjoy and do it well. Anyways, you’re telling us we are out of time now so I suppose I will stop writing and return to class. Thanks for bringing trail mix, on an unrelated note.